Far too few of us appreciate the culinary tools hiding within every bottle of beer – sugar, water, hops, and bubbles – four clutch components that require only a basic understanding to use in the kitchen.
Consider the beer marinade. Because the enzymes in beer break down fiber, it makes for a powerful tenderizer for meat and fish, while its hops and sugar combine to create a bittersweet flavor. And because the water in beer keeps food moist and its sugar caramelizes in reaction to heat, using beer as a baste adds a nutty sweetness, deep-brown color, and slight crispiness to almost anything roasted or thrown on the grill.
Beer makes a great cooking liquid, too. The northern French and the Belgians use beer, a little bacon, and chopped onion to slow-simmer brisket into succulent submission for the cheap, classic, and soul-satisfying beef carbonnade. The Germans use it in cakes, soups, and for poaching bratwurst. And bakers everywhere substitute beer for milk or water in breads, coffee cakes, and doughnuts because the bubbles help leaven the final product.
But the great thing about cooking with beer is that with a little intuition it's hard to screw up. That tang in your seasonal pumpkin ale? Pair it with grated cheddar to make cheese fondue. Those sweet notes in your Upland Strawberry Lambic? They make a fine addition to barbecue sauce. Just trust your taste buds. If there's one category of flavor-memory most guys have in spades, it's the one for Sierra Nevada, Bud, and every other brew we've been savoring our entire lives. Here, three recipes to get you started.
Beer and bread both come from yeast acting on grain. Put the two together, heat them with a little seasoning, and you've got a classic German comfort food – and a full meal in a bowl.
- 1 bottle good India Pale Ale (We like Oregon's Inversion IPA from Deschutes Brewery.)
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 large white onion, sliced
- 1 qt good chicken stock
- 1/4 lb country-style bread
- kosher salt and pepper
Heat canola oil in a saucepan big enough to hold all ingredients, add onion, and sauté until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Add beer, stock, and bread, and simmer gently for another 30 minutes.
Turn on a blender and, with the blade moving, add a ladleful of the soup. With the blender still running, add the rest of the soup 1 ladleful at a time, until pureed.
Credit: Photograph by Travis Rathbone
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with more bread and a cold IPA. Serves 4.